- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Obviously, the most bizarre story in sports this week is Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend. Still unclear what exactly happened -- whether Te'o made the whole thing up or was the victim of some elaborate prank. And until some more answers on that come in, it's hard to know whether or how the whole thing will affect his standing among NFL teams in advance of April's draft.
Prior to the revelations, Mel Kiper Jr. had Te'o projected to go No. 8 overall to the Buffalo Bills in his first mock draft. That would have taken him out of the mix for any NFC East team but the Eagles. But obviously that was just an early projection, and even before this stuff came out there was a decent chance he could be available for the New York Giants at No. 19.
As a football player, Te'o kind of represents exactly what the Giants need. They got by all right with Chase Blackburn at middle linebacker this year, but Blackburn isn't the kind of defensive leader they need, and by all accounts Te'o would be. He has the instincts and the leadership ability to play the middle linebacker position in the 4-3 (or one of the inside linebacker spots in a 3-4 such as Buffalo's), and if you thought there was a spark missing from that Giants' defense in 2012, he's the kind of player who could help address that.
The problem is, now that there are questions about what kind of guy Te'o is and whether he made up a fake girlfriend in an effort to get Heisman votes or for some other reason, he'd bring a circus with him. And of the two teams in New York, the Giants are the one that disdains the circus. Already a team that doesn't like to use first-round picks on linebackers, the Giants don't seem to me to be the kind of team that will invite Te'o and his fresh baggage into their locker room. As much as he might be able to help them as a football player, my bet is, even if he falls to 19, the Giants pass.
A quick look at the other three NFC East teams and whether they'd consider drafting Te'o:
Philadelphia Eagles (4): If they switch to a 3-4 defense and decide (as the Texans did) that DeMeco Ryans doesn't fit in it, Te'o would fit the profile as a nice replacement for Ryans. But No. 4 seems a little high to take him, and the Eagles have other significant needs. Plus, if they stay in a 4-3 (as I think they should), they won't have need for him in the middle.
Dallas Cowboys (18): They are switching to a 4-3, but they're set at middle linebacker with Sean Lee. Their need would be on the strong side, and I don't think Te'o has the speed or athleticism they'd be looking for at that spot. Also, Dallas needs help elsewhere, especially on the lines.
Washington Redskins (no first-round pick): Te'o actually makes some sense for them as a potential London Fletcher replacement, either this year if he retires or soon down the road. Just hard to imagine him falling into the late second round, which is where Washington's first pick lies.